Parents unhappy with District 51 budget proposals

Sarah Shrader, second from right, reacts to the proposed Mesa County Valley School District #51 budget cuts as District Superintendent Steven Schultz gives a presentation during Tuesday’s school board meeting at Basil T. Knight Center.



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Sarah Shrader, second from right, reacts to the proposed Mesa County Valley School District #51 budget cuts as District Superintendent Steven Schultz gives a presentation during Tuesday’s school board meeting at Basil T. Knight Center.

QUICKREAD

What reductions (and likely some reserve funding) will pay for:

* Salary increases for all employees except the superintendent: $2,538,000

* Transfer from general fund to Capital Projects Fund: $1,100,000

* State-mandated PERA retirement benefit increase: $900,000

* Add back one of three school days cut in recent years: $607,000

* Revenue adjustments for reductions in specific ownership tax revenue, interest, and federal forest land tax revenue: $460,000

* Reinstatement of “lanes” to compensate teachers at a higher level for earning advanced degrees: $200,000

* State-mandated reduction in the amount districts can charge a grant agency to cover the cost of a district administering the grant: $200,000

Source: School District 51.



As a member of local parent group Save Our Students, Sarah Shrader wanted to keep as many District 51 budget cuts as possible from affecting her children.

In April, the group suggested the district charge a fee for busing, cut administration, increase sports fees and lengthen walking distances for middle and high school students. Although District 51 School Board members are considering all of those ideas except the bus fee, Shrader is not happy with other items in the $5.76 million budget proposal for 2012-13 the board reviewed Tuesday night, including the elimination of 23 teaching and counseling jobs and 30 support positions.

“We will not stay in the public school system in Grand Junction if we do not believe you as a school board and the central administration are doing what’s best for our students,” Shrader told the board. “We will not watch our children receive a subpar education not because they don’t have awesome, incredible, amazing teachers but because the School Board is not educated about what’s best for student learning.”

Shrader was one of seven people who asked board members Tuesday to reconsider budget reductions as proposed through School Board, district and employee representative group negotiations. A proposal presented at Tuesday’s board meeting included cutting 57 full-time equivalent positions, reducing school and department budgets for supplies and other items by 5 percent apiece, increasing middle school athletic fees to $70 per sport and increasing high school athletic fees to $140 per sport, and eliminating the Leadership for Education, Achievement and Graduation, or LEAG, program.

Soraya Morales, a Grand Junction High School sophomore who participates in LEAG, told the board the program helps push minority students like her to do well in school. She said some students who aren’t as motivated as she is will struggle to stay in school without the program.

“If you take away the LEAG program, it will just end for them,” Morales said.

Superintendent Steve Schultz said the district will not abandon programming for minority students and is waiting to hear if local schools will receive a grant that will help support that mission. Schultz said none of the budget cuts suggested this year or made in the last three years have been easy.

“The bottom line is we have to work with the budget we’re given,” he said.

School Board members Jeff Leany and Ann Tisue said they want people to know reductions that had an impact on classrooms were not part of the board’s plans until employee pay increases were added to the mix.

“We did not go into the classroom with anything (before that) and we did get an extra class day” out of negotiations, Leany said.

Other potential reductions include adding a mile to walking distances for most elementary, middle and high schools in order to reduce busing costs; eliminating a stipend paid to six elementary school principals who lead a group of elementary principals who meet monthly to discuss best practices (the group will continue to meet for free); and saving nearly $300,000 by reducing Reading Recovery program spending to more accurately reflect how much the program actually used this year versus how much money was budgeted for the program.

The district also plans to save money next year through previously-installed energy-efficiency projects, moving The Opportunity Center into a different building to save on rent, and receiving a better return on investment for a teacher training program. The state pays districts a certain amount for each teacher who completes the program, which used to require the district to send teachers to Denver. Now, the training is offered at Western Colorado Community College, which saves the district transportation costs.

The School Board is considering these reductions due to increased costs and some reductions in tax revenue expected next school year. The district must cover a state-required increase in district contributions to PERA retirement benefits, reductions in ownership tax revenue and interest, and a $1.01 million increase in the annual transfer of money from the general fund to the capital projects fund.

The capital fund transfer accounts for most of a $1.1 million surplus the district was able to find for the fund last year but not this year.

The reductions also will help pay for a few additions to the budget that came out of negotiations in April and May between the district and the local teacher representation group, Mesa Valley Education Association. As part of an agreement between the two groups approved by the board Tuesday night, one of the three school days eliminated in recent years will be reinstated on Feb. 18, 2013; a pay increase system suspended during the current school year to compensate teachers who earn additional college credit above their bachelor’s degrees will return in 2012-13; and every employee in the district with the exception of Superintendent Steve Schultz will receive a pay increase next school year.

Teachers have opted for a “step” increase, which equals a pay raise for most teachers for advancing one more year in their profession. Other employee groups are deciding whether they would like to have a “step” increase or a pay raise of up to 2.6 percent next year.

Tenured teachers affected by the proposed job reductions will be offered one of the estimated 60 jobs in the district left vacant for 2012-13 through retirement or resignation of another employee. Less-experienced probationary teachers will have the option of re-applying in the district for another job.

Some support positions, including library secretaries, repair workers, secretaries and buyers, will also have a chance to re-apply. Twelve LEAG employees are being laid off but can choose that option as well.

Four central administration positions from the category of directors, executive directors, the superintendent and coordinators, will be eliminated, including two jobs that will be open through resignation or retirement. Those jobs belonged to a director of communications and a director of transportation, building use and grounds. Schultz declined to say which other two jobs will be eliminated in central administration pending notification of the affected employees.



COMMENTS

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It is really dissapointing and disheartening to see an administration and school board that will not provide leadership!  To the recent committee members and parent group welcome to the world of professional educators where committees have been developed only to have recommendations or input shoved aside!  The District has a long history of this happening!

To have two new board mebers blame the cuts, “non-renewals”, on the negotiations process shame on you!  To Mr. Mikolai, when you blow smoke you can expect fire! I would like to see a list of teh reassignments published this fall in this paper. It is an administrations responsibility and a school boards duty to ensure leadership for ALL employees not a few!

Raises in negotiations should have been a deal breaker!  Non-negotiable period!  To take care of a few at the expense of losing certified and classified staff is deplorable!  For those negotiating the raises and taking them shame on you!  I hope you have to look people in the eye who are gone and those being reassigned, and explain the selfishness of taking raises in this economy at the expense of their jobs.

Scenic closing and the 4 day week alone would have ensured budget productivity not to mention saving over $3 million from the list above.  I am saddened by the lack of leadership and the lack of respect for classified and support staff who help certified people do their jobs in the classroom.  When extra duties are assigned to help kids by administrators this fall I hope those taking the raises are not sitting in the lounge bitchin’ and moanin’ about it!  If you do…...Shame on you!

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